We have been evaluating the role of all-trans-retinoic acid (RA) in the differentiation and growth of human rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) cell lines. Treatment of both embryonal (RD) and alveolar (RH30) human RMS cell lines with all-trans-RA resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth with a maximal inhibition of 92 and 66%, respectively, at 5 × 10-6m. When 13-cis-RA was used under identical experimental conditions, maximal growth inhibition was 41 and 37%, respectively. This stereo-specific growth inhibition was not associated with morphological or biochemical evidence of myogenic differentiation. Furthermore, all-trans-RA demonstrated no evidence of competition with binding of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II), an autocrine growth factor in RMS, to its membrane receptor as evaluated by an [125I]IGF-I receptor-binding assay. Attempts to rescue all-trans-RA growth-inhibited RMS cells with exogenous IGF-II resulted in no increase in growth compared to cells treated with all-trans-RA alone. We conclude that RA inhibits the growth of human RMS cell lines in a dose-dependent, stereo-specific manner, is not associated with differentiation, and does not appear to be directly related to IGF-II.

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